Opening of exhibition "People, Power: Documenting protest since 1957"

Strasbourg 22 October 2021
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(As delivered)




Dear friends,


Over the course of seven decades now, World Press Photos have shocked, impressed and changed those who have seen them.

Often, these images have spoken to us where words have failed:

Showing what bravery, compassion and humility really are.

The pictures of protest included in this exhibition are cases in point.

Some are very famous and iconic.

Every one of them has an immediate impact.

They capture the individual deeds that show what people power really is, often at great risk to those involved.

Because liberty is often in short supply and where it is found, it should be nurtured and protected.

The European Convention on Human Rights came into force in 1953.

Since then, it has guaranteed freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association for every individual in our member states.

Articles 10 and 11- of course.

Through extensive case law, the European Court of Human Rights has spelled out what those articles mean in practice.

It can never be repeated too many times:

Governments have a legal obligation to secure an enabling environment for journalism and free media, and to guarantee the safety of journalists – whether print, broadcast, online, or photographic.

But we know that there are attempts to undermine these rights in Europe today.

Alerts posted on the Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists show a clear picture:

Journalists are being subjected to increased threats, detention, harassment and violence – and are even killed for their work.

And work from across our Organisation has found other worrying trends –

Broadcasting bans and blockages to internet access;

Lawsuits designed to prevent public participation;

And interference with the conduct and coverage of public events, often rallies and protests, sometimes carried out by law enforcement officers, private contractors, and unidentified people.

None of this is right.

It must stop.

And the Council of Europe is dedicated to that task.

At our Hamburg Ministerial Session in May, our member states recommitted to freedom of expression and the protection of journalism as priorities in our work.

So, we will push forward with the implementation of our standards, as well as the development of new instruments;

And further work that will identify shortcomings, and support governments in addressing them.

By working together, we can make progress.

I know I speak to the converted here today, when I say that freedom of assembly, association and expression are essential to the functioning of a democratic society.

They provide a check on those who exercise power and remind them in whose name and interests they govern.

Finally, at the end, I thank the World Press Photo Foundation, UNESCO and the government of the Netherlands - one of our member states most vocal on press freedom – for bringing this important exhibition to Strasbourg.

The images are striking, and the issues are pressing.

They give us much food for thought, and let us hope they also inspire us.

Thank you for your attention.